Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sleepy Shadows

By Thursday, I'm really hating the 4am routine. I sit here at my desk and drift toward the edge of sleep, pull myself back, and keep my fingers dancing over the keyboard in the hope of getting some actual work done. I mean the job I get paid for, not the writing. Unusual things happen when I get into that state of mind, though. Thoughts and images that you'd normally keep safely tucked away peek out around the edge of the door. You see things differently when you can barely see at all.

Today I started thinking (passive verb alert) about the moon. I know, writers have written everything about the moon there is to write. But I did, and I thought about the dark half of the moon that you can still see if you look hard enough. I went on with this image, found an analogy somewhere, and jotted it into my notebook. I'm always worried I'll never be able to find those little tidbits when I want them, and I'm probably right. But I know, that for everyone I catch, there's a few more behind it in the closet, waiting for their turn to peek out before I slam the door again, returning to the "respectable" side of society.

It's a writer's job, isn't it? We keep watching, listening, thinking about things for a different angle. An engineer knows that there are far more than 360 degrees on a compass. There's an infinite number of angles from which to gain a vantage point. And that's only on the x/y plane. Throw z in there, and you'll go crazy thinking about it. And there we go, crazy I mean. Insanity might be just a deeper discovery of what's true, things we're not supposed to talk about. But it's my job to talk about it.

What an odd bunch I've joined. We find ourselves thinking up unintelligible dribble (like this) then spend hours finding a way to make it intelligible, and often fail. See what happens when you don't get enough sleep? I'm sure drugs would have the same effect and I'd get more sleep, but this is cheaper.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

My Favorite Protag

Sometimes I get a brilliant thought. Then my crit group points out that it's not all that brilliant and I start over again. This time, though, I think I'm on to something. Okay, it wasn't really my thought, it's been written about time and time again, but at least I'm starting to get it.

My favorite protag is me. Everything I've written has a protag who leads a dull life as an engineer and suddenly finds himself in unusual circumstances. Problem is, he's still a boring engineer. I told Dineen this, that we have a tendancy to write auto-bios into our fiction. Lets face it, writers in general aren't terribly exciting people. We just have overactive imaginations. Other than that, we spend countless hours sitting in front of computers, drinkning too much coffee, and complaining about the weather. If you have an engineer/writer...well, I think we all understand why there are no TV series with engineers as the main characters. Drool city.

So I think I've made a major discovery about my writing. Normally, my secondary characters are the ones that spring to life. That's because they're nothing like me. I won't ditch my protag for Soul Searcher, though he's an engineer. I've added some characteristics that help him out. But I know I'll only get away with that once. No reader will ever believe there are two interesting engineers in the same universe.

I have been tossing around the idea of changing protags in Soul Searcher from Kevin James (the engineer) to his aunt, Jean Fitzgerald, retired country-wester superstar and night club owner (and a total babe, of course). She's got attitude. Unfortunately, I need her where she's at, major secondary character. She'll get promoted in future best-sellers.

So the moral of the blog is: if your protag is a lot like you, get over yourself and find someone with a life!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Up North

For those of you unfamiliar with Michigan, Up North is an actual geographic location. You won't see it on a map, but you'll know when you're there. Your first indication that you've arrived Up North is the sudden presence of "Jerky Outlets" and something called the "Family Bar."

I did not spend my time in a Family Bar nor did I eat any beef jerky (though, come to think of it, that would have been good). I unhooked my 33' travel trailer in the middle of state land for our annual Doe Camp. It's supposed to be a hunting camp involving members of the Old Doe Hunters Association (me, my dad, a guy named Pete, my brother, and a cousin). We pretend to hunt for a while, then settle in to book reading, cigar smoking, etc. Some of the members partake in adult beverages. I don't, I lock myself in my trailer with my laptop. I also lock myself out of my truck, but that's another story.

Major changes have occured to the opening chapter of Soul Searcher. Gina suggested I move the inciting incident closer to where it says "Chapter 1." So I did. And it ain't bad. I'm hoping to be through editing by the end of the year. By that time we should know where our Wicklow Series stands (yet another story) and I'll make the appropriate changes to my piece of it--Killing Yesterday.

That's a lot of arns in the fahr (that's irons in the fire for youse that don't know southern). But I'm developing a system of sorts for my plotting and my editing. I'll get there one of these days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Man Tired

That was the title to a Gordon Macquarrie story. If you don't know who Gordon Macquarrie is, don't feel bad. He's my favorite outdoor writer. Unfortunately, he left us in 1954. If you ever get the chance, get a copy of "Tales of the Old Duck Hunters and Other Drivel." It's a collection of his stories. Even if you're not a hunter, they're funny and wonderful tales of his relationship with his father-in-law, Hizzoner the President of the Old Duck Hunter's Association, Inc. (the Inc. stands for Incorrigible).

That title does describe how I feel this week. My 4am start-ups are catching up to me. Today it was all I could do not to fall asleep while editing chapter six of Soul Searcher. I'll give this another month or so and see if my body adjusts. I think my wife is sick of going to bed at 9, anyway.

I don't know if I've mentioned it, but I've felt this call to lean toward a suspense/mystery genre. I like the idea of building familiar places and characters. Soul Searcher has a couple of characters that I want to keep around for a long time. Jean Fitzgerald is my favorite. The forty-something country-western singer who's fallen from superstar status makes a lively detective.

I'll keep this short, but at least I posted. I was getting lazy there last week. More to come! Pray for my wakefullness.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Show me the Story

It's an odd thing, to have a dream. Here I am, an engineer in a Visteon plant in the middle of some of the worst years in U.S. automotive history, and I'm thinking about My Book. I think I'll actually use that as a title some day—My Book. Every minute of the day I'm plotting, having conversations with my characters, or (forbid) actually writing. Chances are I'll never get rich off my novels or even make enough to quit my day job, but it's so all consuming. I think that's the way God intended it. He never wanted us to set our goals according to a certain income level. We set them according to the gifts and plans He places in our hearts. Unfortunately, we often go after the money before responding to the gift. That puts us at odds with ourselves, our employers, our families, and especially with Him.

I don't hate my job. Don't get me wrong. But it actually becomes a hindrance to my writing goals. That silly from a worldly sense. If you're making money and living in a big house, you 've achieved success—right? But it ain't so. A Christian knows that. A Christian on fire with the dreams God has placed on his heart knows it better than anyone.

Okay, I have to stop doing whatever it is I'm doing on this blog. I promised, several postings ago, that I'd talk about "Story" and whatever other writing topics I come up with. My loyal readers (Dineen and Gina) expect it. So here's the latest revelation (I'll have better revelations when I do this with the book right beside me):

According to "Story," each scene in your book or screenplay should involved a reversal of values. That seems mighty tough at first, but it begins to clear up when you get right to it. If you're character feels safe and secure at the beginning of the scene, he or she should feel unsafe or frightened at the end. It can be more subtle than that. Your character can go from restlessness to peace, from ignorant about something to enlightened. I think we've heard this stated differently in the past. If you have a scene, SOMETHING must happen. First, there must be action. No action, no scene. Usually, where there's action, something changes. If you do like I do and list out your scenes on a spreadsheet, it's easy to spot the one's where nothing really changes. Praise God for the computer, we just delete that line, preferably before we've written the scene.

Another point in "Story" that I'm coming to grips with is the idea of "seeing" the scene as it would play out on a stage. That's the beauty of studying a book directed at screenwriters. They don’t have a choice. There is no narrative in a movie or play, unless it's a really cheesy film noir movie (sorry, I know they're supposed to be classics, but oh please, keep the writer out of the movie!) By keeping the "stage" in my mind while writing, I find it much easier to keep the backstory out of the narrative form. No easy way out.
Show me the story!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Icy Blue Eyes

Let me tell you something about male writers. We hate describing people. We know three colors outside of primary and hair is either blond, red, or brunette. I should keep a box of Crayolas next to my desk just so I can have a color besides pink to describe a blouse. Oh, by the way, I can identify a blouse, slacks, and maybe an evening gown. After that I get lost. Although I learned what seersucker is not long ago. It has nothing to do with guys like me who pounce on every Craftsman tool sale in the Sunday ads.

And then there's flowers. I can handle roses, impatiens, morning glorys, mums if I think real hard. Next to my box of crayons, I need a Bordine's catalog (that's a nursery for those of you who live outside of Michigan). Weeds are even worse, because nobody sends us a weed catalog and not too many people are interested in writing about them. I have a bumper crop of dandelions in my yard each year, so those are easy. I've also learned to correctly identify Queen Anne's Lace. That's an important one, because if you write a passage with Queen Anne's Lace as part of the scenery description, you sound really smart. Now ragweed, the one that causes me to awaken entire villages with my sneezing every Labor Day, I can't identify. I know it's there somewhere, because it's keeping me awake, but I'm not sure what it looks like. I certainly don't want to get a closer look either.

Dineen and I were having a IM conversation, actually more of a ping-pong of words, involving eye colors. All my characters have icy blue or emerald green eyes. We combined my vast knowledge of flowers and came up with morning glory blue. So now I have two choices for blue eyes. We're still working on green.

This is the best I've got for a Monday morning. I'll get something more interesting up here tomorrow.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


"There are too many months between October and October." - Gene Hill

Yes, my Michigan is soon to be dressed in her finest splendor. This morning I got up before the tribe, made a pot of coffee, and rejoiced in the arrival of my favorite month. At one time, it was my favorite month because Michigan's archery deer season begins today. I still hunt, but very little, which would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. As I grew older, though, I learned to appreciate just being alive during October. So, for those of you who live in the northern portion of these states, step outside and breathe in October. The rest of you may have to wait a few weeks.

So, I've really latched on to this subject of working to get published. Aspiring writers today have more advantages than Jack London ever could have imagined. We have word processing programs, e-mail, the internet, and the TV for easy research. Even more importantly, though, is we have immediate access to the minds of the finest writers in the world. We have more books about writing than we have writers. We have bloggers like Brandilyn Collins and Dave Long who willingly share their knowledge with us newbees, saving us years of making the same mistakes they've already conquered.

That being said, why is it still so hard to get published? Because it's so easy to write. I don't mean that the final polished draft is easy, but just sitting down and tapping out a novel. Everyone who has any inkling to write a book can do it. The problem is, they don't take the time to learn the craft. Despite all our advantages, we still have to work hard and learn. The competition is fierce. Grisham certainly didn't rely on his courtroom experience and access to a computer to write great legal thrillers. He had to learn the craft just like the rest of us.

I've vowed to myself that I will stay in this for the long haul. Wheter it takes one year or twenty to see my name on a book jacket, I'll stay the course. With the help of some good friends, who are in this game with me, and a wife who suports me all the way, I know I'll be sucsessful.

My Christian Supernatural Thriller, Soul Searcher, is in edit mode. I'm very excited about it. One publisher and an agent showed great interest in it at the ACFW conference. I won't send it until it's polished, though. Patience is a necessity in this business.